Scott the Red: United fans have been fairly unhappy with our performances this season yet we’re still top of the league. How bad have City been this season?
Rob Pollard: We’ve played OK. Not great but certainly not as shit as large sections of the media would have you believe. I sometimes read the papers and think I must be going mad because there really are plenty of journalists out there who believe we are in crisis and that Mancini is nothing short of useless. It’s really weird. We’ve certainly not hit anywhere near top form, and we’ll have to do so if we want to win the league, but the representation of us in the media is just wrong. Defensively, we’ve been pretty solid, but going forward we seem devoid of ideas, which is strange given how we played last season.
STR: Who has been your most important player?
RP: Kompany is always the most important but the best so far this season has been Pablo Zabaleta. When he joined, we all loved him straight away because he just didn’t shirk a challenge. Ever. The amount of times he was stretchered off to fix a gaping wound was ridiculous. We all fell in love with that side of him straight away but we wasn’t a top player under Hughes. He would get beaten very easily in one-on-one situations and his discipline was poor. I was always nervous when he played in case he got skinned or sent off. Contrast that to the player we have now and it’s unreal. He is solid and reliable, joins in attacks brilliantly, and can play in a number of positions. He’s been outstanding this season. I can honestly say I’ve not seen that man pull out of a single challenge since he came to the club. He is genuinely one of the best right-backs and left-backs in the league. Who else can say that? That’s one of the things that rarely gets mentioned about Mancini. There are a few players – Lescott, Richards, Zabaleta – who have improved immeasurably since the manager arrived. His influence on the training pitch is clear.
STR: Do you want Mancini to stay for the long term then?
RP: I would love for him to be there long term. I like him a lot. He took a side on from Hughes that was all over the place. We were a mess when he arrived. Hughes has spent money, and a lot of what he bought was shite. We were also completely unorganised, despite what Hughes liked to say at the time. Mancini came in and took us up only one place in his first half a season (6th to 5th) but the difference was clear. We were more professional and looked far closer to being a good side. Then he secured Champions League football and a trophy, then won us the league. It’s been consistent improvement and success.
It’s interesting, because one of my favourite things about Mancini is the fact that he shows his emotions so clearly. Weirdly, this has been used as a stick to beat him with. People say that his emotions spilling out has a negative impact on the squad and club at large. I’m not having that. As a fan I love to see him with an angry face after we’ve played badly – it show he cares. When Tevez refused to come on in Munich and Mancini was interviewed afterwards, I’ve rarely seen that much emotion in a manager, and he was right to be like that. I was the same. What’s strange is when I hear United fans (some, not many) saying he’s too emotional, because that’s been one the things I’ve most admired about Ferguson down the years. If United lose, Fergie looks devastated, and so he should.
STR: What did you make of United bringing in the likes of Van Persie and Kagawa, whilst City signed Sinclair and Rodwell?
RP: I was seriously frustrated in the summer. I felt it was all very clear: buy van Persie and Javi Martinez and we’ll win the league. We dithered around and ended up dashing around for bargains at the last minute, Arsenal-style. Marwood had a nightmare this summer and I’m glad to see he’s been demoted. Sinclair is about as weird a signing as you’re ever likely to see. Rodwell I’ve always liked but we’ve not been able to get him on the pitch. And, thus far, Garcia has been shocking. His passing and lack of pace are a major source of concern. At £3m quid, Maicon could prove to be a decent buy. He’s old and can’t defend very well, which worries me, but against Tottenham when we threw him on high up the pitch it really disrupted them and helped us turn the screw. That could prove useful. The only unanimous success has been Nastasic who, at 19 years of age, looks an absolutely belting signing. He’ll have a dip, most youngsters do, but the talent’s there for all to see. His positional sense defies his age, and he is very comfortable on the ball. To think he has only really played a handful of games in Serie A before his move is staggering. Maybe I’m getting overly excited, but from what I’ve seen he looks a real talent.
STR: If you could sign any United player, who would it be?
RP: My head is telling me to say Rooney but my heart is telling me Paul Scholes. People talk about England not producing many technically gifted players – and they’re right – but Paul Scholes is a player who, as Ferguson has repeatedly said, could have played for anyone. The fact that England flung him out on the left is beyond embarrassing and pretty much sums England’s philosophy up. The one player we had who was supremely talented and we played him out of position. Anyone else would have built the side around Scholes – we chose to ask him in to fill in for us in a troublesome position. How utterly ridiculous. In my lifetime, other than Scholes, there have been very few naturally gifted English footballers. We’ve had some top players, like Shearer and Gerrard, but not may with that sublime natural gift. Sheringham was a nice player to watch, he had a great touch, but he wasn’t amazing, and I only caught the very backend of Gascoigne’s career. So, for me, I’ve only seen Scholes in an England shirt who has that gift. I actually think Wilshere has supreme natural ability and could be the heir to Scholes’ throne, but only time will tell.
STR: Evans, Clevlerley, Welbeck, Fletcher, Scholes and Giggs could all have been in the squad for today, if not for injuries. The closest thing City have to anything like this is Arsenal supporting Brummie Micah Richards, who Oldham have a sell on clause for after you pinched him from them. Do you wish City would adopt a similar model to us when it came to your squad – bringing through some of your own players and having local lads in the squad?
RP: It’d be lovely to produce more homegrown players but I’m not somebody who gets overly bothered about it. As long as there are players going out on to the pitch who I respect and who respect the club, that’s the main thing.
STR: Why are City so shit in Europe?
RP: I want to give you a really well thought out, reasoned answer but the truth is I haven’t got a clue. To be fair, last season we took 10 points from a really difficult group, we were a little unlucky that time. This season, though, has been woeful. A totally disastrous campaign in which we didn’t manage to win a single match. It’s pretty pathetic and to say otherwise would be absolutely daft. There was a prominent City blogger saying after the second Madrid match (which we drew 1-1) that he was ‘proud’ of the side. Now, I’m not being funny, but Madrid could have been 3 or 4 up at half-time. I expect much better from our side and felt let down throughout the champions League group. Mind you, that was the same blogger who, prior to the first match in Madrid, said that the prospect of getting a point was highly unlikely. I mean, what planet he’s on I’ll never know. City fans with that mentality are the ones likely to tweet after a defeat “this time 10 years ago we were playing the likes of Stockport” which, funnily enough, he is guilty of saying. It’s sad really.
STR: Talking of the City mentality, what do you make of your fans’ reaction to Carlos Tevez? He fucked off on holiday for months, returned and took the piss out of you with his golfing goal celebration, but he was welcomed like the Prodigal Son. What is that all about?
RP: This is something that pisses me right off. The whole thing was a disgrace. Refusing to warm up and come on was disgusting on two levels. Firstly, on a professional level, it takes the piss out of the fans, the staff, the other players and the club in general. It made us look pathetic, and added fuel to the journalists’ fire that says we are ‘a team of individuals and mercenaries’, which is actually far from the truth. Secondly, on a human level, seeing a grown man, as respected and well liked as Mancini, left to look like such a dick, and with his authority so clearly undermined, was actually very, very sad. I would hate to see that happen to anyone, let alone the manager of the club I support. Carlos Tevez is a man I would hate if I met him in real life, that’s for certain. But, of course, if you’re looking for role models and great guys, football’s the wrong place to look. With regards the celebration, I found that almost worse. Not content with making out club look bad and denting our title challenge with his exodus, he then mocked it when he returned. I was disgusted by that. As for the fans, I think their rationale was that we needed to get over the line and win that first league title, and we basically had a top drawer player we could bring back in and give us a boost. Now, that doesn’t make their willingness to accept him back acceptable, but that’s my theory at least. Clearly, the guy’s an absolute moron but football’s full of ’em.
STR: Only United and Chelsea have retained the title in the past 20 years. You reckon that City can do it this season?
RP: Of course we can. It’s difficult to say with any certainty whether or not we will given the way we’ve played and also respecting the fact that United always pose a great threat, but we’re certainly capable. We must start to find fluidity in an attacking sense soon, though. If we do that, we will have a great chance.
STR: Cheers Rob.
Fergie to tap his watch in second half injury time (90 mins or later) – Yes: Evens
Man Utd to score in injury time – Yes: 5/1
Tevez to be sent off – Yes: 10/1
RVP to score more goals than Aguero – Yes: Evens
Rooney to score more goals than Tevez – Yes: 11/10